Priesthood in the Catholic Church

main ordination status in the Catholic Church

The Priesthood is one of the three holy orders of the Catholic Church.


  • However, nobody can be surprised that the priests, the bishops, and the popes of Rome are sunk into such a bottomless abyss of infamy, when we remember that they are nothing else than the successors of the priests of Bacchus and Jupiter. For not only have they inherited their powers, but they have even kept their very robes and mantles on their shoulders, and their caps on their heads. Like the priests of Bacchus, the priests of the Pope are bound never to marry, by the impious and godless law of celibacy. For every one knows that the priests of Bacchus were, as the priests of Rome, celibates. But, like the priests of the Pope, the priests of Bacchus, to console themselves for the restraints of celibacy, had invented auricular confession. Through the secret confidences of the confessional, the priests of the old idols, as well as those of the newly-invented wafer gods, knew who were strong and weak among their penitents, and under the veil of the sacred mysteries, during the night celebration of their diabolical mysteries, they knew to whom they should address themselves, and make their vows of celibacy an easy yoke.
  • A vast number of Catholic clerics have been tried for sexual crimes ... It is not a matter of regrettable individual lapses, but of a general corruption of morals such as the history of civilization has scarcely ever known . . . No other class of society has ever come to shelter such depravity ... In our civilized world no other class of society has contrived to practice immorality and indulge in filth on a scale resembling than that achieved by the German clergy in all its ranks ... We cannot possibly impose sanctions on unnatural vice and yet at the same time allow thousands upon thousands of priests and brothers of religious Orders to escape scot-free ... A very large number of these priests and Religious work in the confessional ... There is no doubt that even the thousands of cases which have come to light represent but a small fraction of the total moral corruption.
    • Speech by Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels on all German wireless stations, May 28, 1937, accusing Catholic priests and monks of immorality and pedophilia on a grand scale. The speech was part of a larger "Nazi campaign in 1937 led by Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels to discredit the Catholic Church following Pope Pius XI’s anti-Nazi encyclical Mit brennender Sorge." Persecution of the Catholic Church in the Third Reich, Facts and Documents (1940, 1941, 2003), "published with the approval of Pope Pius XII". The book's anonymous* author later identified as German Jesuit Walter Mariaux (1894-1963), Pelican Publishing, ISBN 1589801377 ISBN 9781589801370 p. 305. [1]
      * "The man was in fact Dr. Walter Mariaux, a native of Ulzen, Hanover, who in 1935, at the age of 40, joined the Central Church Office for Students in Rome and about the same time became one of the German broadcasters on Vatican radio." Anonymous No Longer, The Wiener Library Bulletin (1963), Volumes 17-19, p. 17.
      Sociologist Compares Today's Crisis to Nazi Smear Campaign, John L. Allen Jr., National Catholic Reporter, Apr. 17, 2010 [2]
  • All Catholic priests cannot be universally characterized in terms of personality and psychological functioning. Like many vocations and professions, a wide variety of individuals choose to become Catholic priests and a range of personality styles and levels of psychological health are represented in the priesthood. However, a fairly small number of research studies have investigated the psychological profiles of Catholic clergy or Catholic seminary students in an effort to better understand the psychological and personality functioning of these individuals (e.g., Banks, Mooney, Mucowski, & Williams, 1984; Bier, 1948; Keddy, Erdberg, & Sammon, 1990; McCarthy, 1942; Weisgerber, 1966). More studies have examined the psychological profiles of non-Catholic clergy such as Protestant ministers (e.g., Ashbrook & Powell, 1967; Ekhardt & Goldsmith, 1984; Patrick, 1990, 1991). The vast majority of these investigations have used the MMPI to assess personality and psychological functioning and the majority of these projects were conducted prior to 1980. However, a review of these and more recent studies indicate that specific clergy personality trends based on group data have surfaced. As part of a comprehensive review of the literature, Nauss (1973) investigated MMPI p~roflles of nine Protestant and two Catholic studies and found "... an amazing similarity..." (p. 84) and a "... high degree of uniformity among MMPI results.., suggest(ing) an easily identifiable pattern" (p. 89) with elevations on the K, Hy, Pd, Mr, and Ma scales and low scores on the Si scale. Nauss described the ministerial personality as being characterized by "... extroversion, reflectiveness or intuitiveness, nurturance, and co-operation, and environment ordering" (p. 89). Nanss further noted that Catholic seminary students tended to be more introverted than Protestants.
  • Some have suggested that priests and applicants to the priesthood too often experience psychological dysfunction (e.g., Gafford, 2001; Meloy, 1986). Others have suggested that the Church system may be designed to encourage men with significant psychosexual difficulties to enter religious life (Doyle, 2003; Sipe, 2004). The question of the psychological health of Catholic priests is an intriguing one that has received a great deal of media attention, but remarkably little empirical investigation in the professional psychological literature.
    Different types of people seek to become Catholic priests and a wide variety of personality styles are found in seminary and in the priesthood. Yet, a small number of empirical studies have examined the typical psychological profile of Catholic priests or seminary applicants (e.g., Banks, Mooney, Mucowski, & Williams, 1984; Gafford, 2001; Keddy, Erdberg, & Sammon, 1990; Kosek, 2000; Plante, Manuel, & Tandez, 1996). Many more research studies have investigated the psychological and personality profiles of non-Catholic clergy, such as Anglican or other protestant ministers (e.g., Ashbrook & Powell, 1967; Ekhardt & Goldsmith, 1984; Francis, Payne, & Jones, 2001; Musson & Francis, 2002; Patrick, 1990, 1991; Thorson, 1992).
  • The Church and society in general have changed a great deal since the 1973 review by Nauss and many wonder if applicants to the priesthood in more recent years are significantly different from those who entered religious life during previous generations. For example, prior to the Nauss review, many boys entered seminaries while they were still teenagers, whereas today’s applicant is likely to be closer to 30 years old (Plante et al., 1996).
  • Keddy et al. (1990) found elevated L scales on the MMPI, suggesting priests often maintain defensive styles, while Dunn (1990) reviewed the professional literature concerning MMPI investigations with Catholic priests, and noted frequent elevations on the Mf, Pt, and Sc Scales. These findings imply that priests, "...tend to be more perfectionistic, worrisome, introversive, socially inept and in more extreme cases, perhaps more isolated and withdrawn" (p. 133). Meloy (1986) suggests that Catholic clergy may tend to be narcissistic. Plante et al (1996) evaluated 21 priest applicants and found elevations on the MMPI measures of defensiveness (L, K, and R scales) as well as the MF, Hy, GF, Re, and OH scales. This suggests that they experience more gender feminine interests, interpersonal sensitivity, social responsibility, and challenges with coping with negative impulses associated with anger and hostility than the general population.

“Religious Crisis and Civic Transformation” (2016)


Kimba Allie Tichenor (2016). “Religious Crisis and Civic Transformation”. Brandeis University Press.

  • The postwar debate on mandatory clerical celibacy in the Catholic Church did not begin in earnest until 1968. Against the backdrop of the release of the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae banning artificial contraception and calls or liberalizing the legal sexual order in West Germany, an internal Catholic debate on the charismatic nature of celibacy metamorphosed into a public debate, in which non-Catholics took an active role. For reform- Catholics and non-Catholics in the 1970s, the clerical celibacy requirement became emblematic of the Church’s intransigence on artificial contraception and more generally of its negative valuation of sexuality. Resentful of the Church’s active resistance to ecclesial and secular reforms concerning sexual morality, Catholic reformers and non-Catholics utilized the issue of celibacy to challenge their religious and secular authority exercised by the institutional Church in West Germany. In this challenge, the media played a critical role.
    • p.29
  • To understand the post-World War Ii celibacy debate, some information on the meaning the Catholic Church assigns to clerical celibacy is required. The word “celibacy” simply refers to the state of living unmarried. But in Catholicism, celibacy means much more than bachelorhood. Since the Catholic Church considers all sexual activity outside of marriage sinful, celibacy also implies chastity. Celibacy is a requisite of clerical office, but it is also considered an eschatological sign of and stimulus for the call to ministry. The celibate priest is understood to be both bride and bridegroom in the suprasexual nuptial relationship between Christ and Church. He is also the bridegroom of the Church, “his bride”, with whom he has entered into an indissoluble marriage contrast. Thus, as Tina Beattie pointed ut, the female body is excluded from the suprasexual relationship between Christ and the Church. This exclusion informs both the Church’s understanding of marriage and the exalted status accorded the celibate priesthood.
    For centuries, the Church taught that celibacy, as a form of spiritual marriage with God, constituted a state superior to that of earthly marriage. Although marriage represented a gift from God, in its sexuality it was tainted by original sin and consequently intended for those Christians who could not practice continence. In the teachings of Thomas Aquinas, sexual intercourse became corrupted by lust, and the emphasis shifted to man’s loss of control over the sexual organs. Eve’s role as temptress and instigator of human suffering meant that marriage was intended not only as a means of controlling human sexuality, but more specifically as a means of controlling women. To this end, the Catholic Church taught that the primary purpose of marriage was the generation and rearing of offspring. This conception of marriage as an inferior form of Christian life defined by parturition helped justify the celibate male clergy’s authority over the laity, particularly in the bedroom.
    • pp.30-31
  • Untainted by sexual intercourse, the priest was a man apart from and above his congregation. Franz Franken, a laicized priest, described the pre-Vatican II public image of the priest: ”A priest was not seen as a collaborator or mediator, but as a magical numinous being with special hidden access to God, a being to which one could attach one’s most secret wishes and hopes, like the devotional objects of pilgrimage sites … so that at the time of Vatican II, a priest who no longer lived a celibate life was frequently branded and condemned in the Catholic public sphere as the most terrible disgrace of the Holy Catholic Church.” The Church went to great lengths to safeguard the sexual purity of its priests. Both codes of canon law valid during the time span covered by this monograph-those of 1917 and 1983-advised priests to avoid persons who might jeopardize their celibacy. The 1917 Code of Canon Law identified such persons specifically as women. In Germany, the 1954 Cologne Diocesan Synod established detailed rules governing interactions between priests and women. For example, young priests on vacation were prohibited from swimming with groups of young girls, and seminary students were not allowed to have any contact with girls during holidays. One priest reported that, during his seminary training, he was advised to avoid interactions with his siter because this too could be fraught with danger! The priest’s authority was based on his otherness, and the most visible manifestation of that otherness was his celibacy.
    • pp.31-32
  • The Latin Church has not always demanded celibacy or continence of its priests. There is evidence that, beginning in the third century, many bishops and priests were married and had children. In fact, until the fourth century, no law was promulgated by Church authorities concerning clerical marriage or continence. The Council of Elvira in roughly AD 305 would be the first to decree that married priests practice continence; however, it did not exclude married men from the priesthood. Celibacy became mandatory for priests in the Latin Church only after the Second Lateran Council in 1139. Between the twelfth and the sixteenth centuries, the celibacy requirement in the Latin Church was subject to multiple challenges; this state of affairs ended when Pius V (1566-1572) made it clear that the matter was closed. Although the issue surfaced from time to time, particularly during the French Revolution, the celibacy requirement and the elevated status assigned to the celibate state has been largely quiescent within the Latin Church from the late eighteenth century until the late 1960s.
    • p.32
  • In Optatam Totius, the council fathers encouraged bishops to consider the results and methods of psychology in the recruitment and pedagogical training of young priests. They envisioned the deployment of scientific methods in the service of a healthy priesthood. But the new willingness to embrace the social sciences had unanticipated consequences. The findings of psychology and psychoanalysis became critical elements in the attack against celibacy from within the Church. Catholic critics such as Fritz Leist, Hubertus Mynarek, and Eugen Drewermann called attention to the Church’s suppression of what they considered a fundamental human drive (the sex drive) and cast suspicion on the type of man attracted to a celibate priesthood, whom they labeled psychologically suspect. In the context of the sexual revolution of the late 1960s and early 1970s, this critique found a receptive public audience and gave credibility to the countless rumors circulating in the secular press after 1968 of priests leading secret sexual lives. Since the Church had called for openness to the social sciences, it could not simply ignore these charges.
    • pp.38-39
  • In Presbytereum Ordinis, the council fathers departed from Pius XII’s 1954 characterization of clerical celibacy as “doctrine” (a truth revealed by God and therefore not subject to revision). Instead, they described celibacy as a matter of Church law: “Indeed it is not demanded by the very nature of the priesthood, as is apparent from the practice of the early Church and from the traditions of the Eastern Churches, where besides those who with all the bishops, by a gift of grace, choose to observe celibacy, there are also married priests of highest merit.” Although Jon XXIII had alluded to the nondoctrinal quality of priestly celibacy in his 1963 interview with Etienne Gilson, ‘’Presbyterorum Ordinis’’ was the first official post-World War II Church document to do so.
    • Celibacy for the Kingdom of Heaven and earth, p.39
  • The question of celibacy for the Latin church has become an extremely serious problem not only in the Netherlands but also in other countries and threatens to lead to a split in the Catholic Church. We cannot and may not look on this development without taking action. Even those who don’t reject a law of celibacy outright regard the unity of the Church as a greater good than the preservation of a disciplinary law which has neither applied for all times nor applies everywhere today. . . . given the present heightening of the issue, the situation outside of the Netherlands is also very much more threatening than might appear at first sight. We therefore call on our bishops, in accordance with the shared responsibility of the bishops for the whole church which was endorsed again at Vatican II, as individuals and through their conferences to intercede publicly for the substantive conversation about this question in Rome which is long overdue and has often been called for.
    • Hans Kung, Norbert Greinacher, Johannes Neumann; "Bishop’s Conferences of West Germany, Austria and Switzerland", p.51
  • In this chapter, we have seen how the celibacy debate began as a relatively small component of a larger concern among Church officials about the post 1945 shortage of priests. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the issue of clerical celibacy took center stage, and an internal Catholic debate escalated into a public debate on the moral and structural authority of the Church. Via the media, Catholics and non-Catholics took an active role, and the Church became trapped in a public relations nightmare that further undermined its efforts trapped in a public relations nightmare that further undermined its efforts to recruit new priests. The debate metamorphosed again in the early 1980s when Catholic women entered the fray. Influenced by new theological and secular conceptions of womanhood, Catholic women drew connections between the preservation of a male celibate priesthood and women’s oppression in the Church and in German society. In this context, the debate on clerical celibacy became inextricably linked to women’s exclusion from Church office, including the priesthood. However, not all Catholic women supported change. Conservative women’s groups received the support of an increasingly conservative German episcopate, further alienating moderates and progressives. For conservative Catholics, the Church’s theological understanding of earthly marriage and of the suprasexual marriage between Christ and the church became the lynchpin of Catholic identity and Catholic politics. In closing, it is important to note that widespread, substantiated allegations of child abuse by clergy did not surface in the German Church until 2010. Consequently the clerical celibacy debate in Germany played out very differently during this time period than in the United States, where charges off child abuse surfaced in the 1980s, reminding us that although the clerical celibacy debate was transnational in scope, its articulation had distinctly national features.
    • p.59

See also